A Much Too Lenient Sentence

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - March 15, 2006

If you call someone a name they don’t like, they may kill you and get away with it.

That pretty much sums up the case of the man who called his neighbor the “N” word and got beaten to death. There were other pertinent circumstances regarding this case, but the sentence given by the judge indicates a racial epithet hurled at a black man is justifiable grounds for manslaughter.

Sound incredible? You bet. Granted, this is a situation that never should have been allowed to get out of control.

And, as with all stories, there are two sides.

The two men involved lived in a Pearl City apartment building. Michael Gillum, 46, and Kendall Edmonds, 24, were neighbors.

It’s about 2:30 in the morning and a TV is on too loud.

There are other noises, too, and Gillum’s 15-year-old daughter needs to get some sleep. Gillum pounds on the wall and his neighbor meets him in the hallway. According to court testimony, Edmonds and Gillum confront each other and Gillum, who is white, throws a punch at Edmonds. At some point, it is reported that Gillum used “incendiary” racial slurs which infuriates Edmonds, a black former petty officer at Pearl Harbor, who strikes back and nails Gillum with a punch.

Edmonds then straddles Gillum and continues to strike him numerous times. The first blow was so severe, the medical examiner reports the first punch probably killed Gillum. The rest of the blows are allegedly inconsequential to his survival or demise. While this is going on, Gillum’s daughter can hear everything.

This case should serve as a warning to all people who want to take a stink eye, a middle finger or a racial epithet as a signal to get into a heated confrontation. You have a problem with a neighbor who is being a jerk? Don’t play cowboy and ride into the OK Corral. Just take a deep breath, get on the phone and call the police. That’s one of the reasons they are there. And they’re trained to resolve what they call “domestics.”

The most disquieting aspect of this case sits squarely with Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto. During sentencing, he said something very interesting. In contemplating the case, he reasoned that Gillum had “initiated this ugly confrontation” and provoked Edmonds with “incendiary racial epithets.” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin 3/8).

In this case, the prosecutors were seeking a 20-year prison term. Judge Sakamoto opted for 100 days in prison and 10 years’ probation.

Are we to conclude when a white man uses the “N” word he can expect a violent response and, if he is injured or killed, then the aggressor is given a break because the name-calling is so harsh? If that is the case, I suppose any Chinese who is called “Pake,” any Filipino called a “Flip” or Native Hawaiian called a “Moke” has the green light to become violent, especially in Sakamoto’s court.

Judge Sakamoto made a fundamental mistake. He justifiedthe lenient sentence given to Edmonds because Gillum used foul and inflammatory language in a dispute. Calling someone a name is in bad taste, but it should not be the basis of justifying a more lenient sentence. One would hope we could exercise some decorum when talking to one another, but we should not expect to be viciously beaten to death if our language is offensive.

This is the wrong message, and I hope Judge Sakamoto will reconsider his position.

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